Everyone has a money history.
It is comprised of our memories, experiences, and feelings about money accumulated over our lifetime.
The interactions we have with money during our formative years are particularly powerful and often have a lasting influence on our adult lives. The story money tells isn’t always a happy one, and often is filled with pages of anxiety and frustration. Or, you might be one of the lucky ones, where your relationship with money has been mostly healthy and stress-free.
Examining your money history will help you understand behaviors and relationship challenges around money throughout your life. Your money story is also one key to envisioning ideal future outcomes in your life, where money is concerned.
My money story began in a middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs of Seattle. My father was a teacher and worked evenings selling financial products to bring in additional income. My mom stayed home and raised three children. My parents modeled frugality in their money choices: reusing and getting the maximum life out of everything from clothes to tools, searching for second-hand gems discarded at the dump, and changing the oil in the car themselves.
I vividly remember my father’s excitement about salvaging used railroad ties to be used for a future building project and the multiple trips we took with the utility trailer to grab as many as possible before someone else discovered the treasure.
My parents did all their own home maintenance and repair projects, and I learned a lot working beside them. I appreciate them teaching me how to work hard and be careful with money. However, the constant focus on what things cost and the time and effort spent cobbling second-hand parts together left me with the nagging feeling that we never had enough money.
A prime example of this scarcity mindset occurred when I was trying out for the high school baseball team my freshman year. I needed metal spikes instead of the rubber cleats I’d worn since I started playing baseball.
I told my dad I needed to go to the sports store to buy new cleats before the first practice. It wasn’t a surprise when we ended up buying a lightly worn pair of used cleats instead. They were white, and at the time, everyone wore black cleats. I would be the only player on the field with white cleats, and I wanted desperately to fit in.
To make matters worse, my dad got out his shoeshine kit and polished them so they were even more sparkling white. I remember feeling humiliated and totally distracted from the fielding and hitting drills during tryouts. I ended up making the junior varsity team that year, but the experience made a lasting impression that I never wanted to repeat.
A sense of anxiety about having enough money followed me into adulthood. I was highly focused on earning enough money to buy nicer things (houses, cars, clothes, trips) that eluded me as a child, even to the point of overspending at times. This behavior created tension, anxiety, and guilt because it was in direct conflict with my frugal upbringing.
I can still get stuck in a decision spin cycle around money, and this played out recently when it was time to replace the Ford Explorer I had driven for 10 years. I considered buying a newer version of the Explorer, but I wanted something different. Because the nicer SUV’s are expensive, I found myself hesitant to even start looking. I could see myself in a Range Rover, Audi, or Mercedes, and while I felt I deserved a nice car and could afford it, my money history was putting me into sticker shock with the higher-end models.
With some coaching and encouragement from my wife, we finally purchased a used Mercedes SUV with low miles that struck the right emotional balance between indulgence and a more practical price tag.
I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the years to uncover how their money stories impact their financial decisions and relationships. It has taken intentional introspection, growth, and coaching to understand and harness my own relationship with money and create better life outcomes (a process I explore in my new book, The Wealth Creator’s Playbook: A Guide to Maximizing Your Return on Money). I’m now able to recognize old, unproductive patterns of behavior and adjust my actions.
Three questions to help you build the money future you want can be found on Green Money.